Summer Wine

"Strawberries, cherries and an angel's kiss in spring:
My summer wine is really made from all these things..."

So sang Nancy Sinatra in Lee Hazelwood's magnificently weird tale of seduction and theft. We are indeed in the season of soft fruits and osculation, but I prefer my summer when it tastes of well-tended vines in good soil and sunshine. Call me unadventurous if you must.
Summer leisure is all about sitting out in the sunshine, watching the cricket, tennis or even the boating. It's about picnics, evenings in the garden, open-air theatre and opera; music festivals, barbecues and skinny-dipping. To my mind, the wines we drink need to reflect the colour, the joy and the lightness of the warm months. There are certain wines that just feel right. On the other hand, there are some wines that, however popular, never seem to fit for me. We all have our preferences, and I'd like to share mine. I hope you enjoy my suggestions.

Wine that matches the colour of the sunset is one of the great pleasures of the summer. I do recoil somewhat, however, when I see the supermarket shelves full of cochineal-pink wines that promise the flavours of strawberries. The sweetness of these wines tends to weigh them down a bit. They have nothing of the levity I look for in this season. That's not to say I want unsophisticated wines. A good rosé should have all the complexity of the red grape that gave birth to it. The best European rosés, I think, come from Provence, in southern France. They tend to be light salmon-pink in colour and are dry, minerally and smell of herbs and redcurrants. They are incredibly versatile wines, sitting equally well with fish and shellfish dishes, light salads and grilled meats, or just a bowl of olives and a sunset. Rosés from the Loire valley are usually fuller bodied, deeper hued and less complex in flavour. Here, you might detect watermelon, cherry or raspberry notes. Because of the deeper fruitiness of the wines, they give the impression of being sweeter that those from Provence. If you are used to medium and off-dry rosés, one of these might be your introduction to a drier, more food-friendly style. Outside Europe, stick with the cooler climates. Look out for pink pinot noir wines from New Zealand: dry and tasting of pomegranate and berry fruits.

It's no secret that I love the wines of Burgundy. All white wine produced in the region is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. In the south, around Chalon, Macôn and Beaune, where the sun shines long and hot on soft soils, the grape produces full-bodied wines with a strong butter-and-lemon-zest taste. Chablis, however, is in the far north of the region, where the ground is hard and full of fossilised sea shells. Here the same grape produces a much cleaner wine than it does further south. It's so clean that it's almost surgical. The lemon flavour now has all the freshness of newly-squeezed juice. Imagine cutting a ripe lemon with a good steel knife, then licking the blade: that's a Chablis. While Chablis is an extremely versatile wine, matching well with a wide variety of foods, there is one thing above all else that it cries out for - chilled, poached salmon. You can have your salmon on sandwiches, in a salad with lemon mayonnaise, or with boiled potatoes and watercress sauce, but pair it with a Chablis and your summer picnic will be singing like a Glyndebourne prima donna.

The poor riesling grape suffered terrible humiliation in the 1980s, being forced to play a supporting role in those horrible, artificially sweet wines we'd all rather forget.  Now, however, is a good time to revisit this grape. It grows best when it grows slowly, so produces its most flavoursome wines in cooler climates like Germany, eastern France, Austria and Washington state, and those regions are producing some really impressive wines right now. Riesling wines smell fresh and floral and taste of apples, peaches and even pineapple, so is a perfect summer drink. If you want to rediscover this delicious grape, go for a drier wine, such as the Grey Slate Riesling by Dr Loosen or one from Alsace in France. Riesling ages very well, and once you've rediscovered it you can enjoy pushing the boat out a little on special occasions, to buy an older wine. Incidentally, if you want a wine to go with strawberries and cream, try a Canadian Ice Wine. It's not cheap, but the acidity of the riesling will see you through the richness of the cream and the sweetness will match any quantity of sugar you've put on the fruit.

Barbecue wines
I get a lot of adverts in my email and social media at this time for year for wines that have been "specially selected for your favourite barbecue meats." They seem to be invariably heavy, dark wines, oozing thick, jammy fruit flavours, like plum, damson and over-ripe cherries. Some may even boast aromas of liquorice, tar and cedar. All lovely wines, I'm sure, but to my mind better suited to braised beef in the winter than grilled pork on a (hopefully) warm afternoon. For red wines, just as much as for white ones, light and frivolous are the marks of good summer wine. Even when you're grilling steaks, try serving a pinot noir or a gamay wine, lightly chilled. Don't buy a posh Burgundy: go for a pinot from Italy or New Zealand. Beaujolais is made from gamay. You also can get superb gamay wines from the Loire. If you choose a fairly young one, it'll have enough fruit about it and sufficient tannin to back up your steak, but the lighter body and sweeter perfume make it better suited to afternoon drinking.

Whatever your taste in wine, I hope you have a happy and safe summer, and that we're able to spend more time with loved ones soon. Do let me know if you make any wine discoveries in the coming months.

Next time: celebrating France.


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